First 3D Print with the Wanhao Duplicator D9/500

IMG_20180917_Webcam 3D Print Mount

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed I’m quite a big fan of the Wanhao 3D printers – they’re cheap, reliable, upgradable, and just good value for money. Even my Cocoon Create from Aldi is actually just a Wanhao in disguise! Recently Wanhao released the Duplicator D9/500, which has an incredible 500x500x500mm build volume. Yes, you read that right, those numbers are not a typo! The picture above doesn’t do it justice, this is a big unit that currently we can only store and run on the floor until we can free up a large desk. Manoeuvring this thing is definitely a 2 person job!

Before I get into the details of the machine and my first experiences, the printed vase pictured above is the first successful print, which is the Curved Honeycomb Vase (free on Thingiverse) printed at 200% scale. Printed in vase mode (aka “spiralise” in Cura) with a 0.8mm nozzle, this print took approximately 6 hours to complete. A great design in itself, and very cool at this large size.

However, it certainly hasn’t all been smooth sailing with this printer. First, there were some lengthy delays from Wanhao between when we placed the order and finally received the machine – apparently some manufacturing and quality control issues, and Wanhao may have released the machine a bit too early to market. In total we waited several months, however, they may be much faster now that issues seem to be resolved. The second big issue we faced was assembly – the supplied instructions weren’t particularly useful or even relevant, with some of the components no longer supplied with the printer – it seems that the initial release included large brackets to help stabilise the frame and some other details in the instructions, so we were left feeling like we were missing some parts. Apparently we are not, although we still haven’t figured out some of the cable management issues and have had to hack together a temporary solution for now.

Another challenge with assembly was in constructing the frame; obviously at such a large size the frame wasn’t pre-assembled like the smaller Duplicator 3, and the frame also uses extruded aluminium rather than folded sheet metal. Squaring all of these extrusions is not simple, and some initial issues when running the machine were related to having one of the vertical frame pieces lightly twisted. Some better alignment details are definitely needed.

The final issue that we’ve been experiencing is in the auto-levelling sensor, which was not installed at the correct height in the factory and required a lot of manual adjustment (we had the nozzle collide with the bed several times when first running it). However, even with this, the machine doesn’t really seem to adjust the prints for any levelling issues; our first prints across the bed revealed a number of areas where the bed was slightly warped, which were not being corrected by the auto-level feature, so we are currently manually doing adjustments for now. And we have found the central area of the bed is OK, so the vase printed really well.

So overall I would have to recommend that anyone considering this printer hold off for at least a few more months, there are just too many issues for anyone without a lot of experience calibrating 3D printers, and without the time to really get in and troubleshoot issues. Last time I searched on YouTube it seems others have also come to a similar conclusion. I think with time this will be a great 3D printer, we’re certainly going to keep learning more about it, but this seems like a case of a manufacturer rushing to market without properly testing and perfecting their equipment. Unfortunately, an all too common story in the 3D printing world.

Make sure you follow my blog and social media accounts to keep up to date with ongoing test prints and posts about the Wanhao Duplicator D9/500. And please share your own experiences in the comments section so we can all learn from each other 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

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Ninjaflex Part 3 – Flexion Extruder Upgrade

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This is the third post in a series about 3D printing with Ninjaflex, which initially began using the stock standard extruder on a Wanhao Duplicator i3 (click here to start at the beginning), before a 3D printed modification was trialled (click here for post 2), and now here we are with a completely upgraded extruder specifically for printing with soft materials.

Pictured above you can see some fancy red anodised components and exposed gears – this is the Flexion HT Extruder, a relatively expensive upgrade (US$179) which is about half the cost of the entire printer itself. It replaces the entire core of a standard single extruder; all that remains from the original is the stepper motor and cooling fans. So why upgrade?

Well as the previous posts discovered, the highly flexible nature of Ninjaflex (shore hardness of 85A) meant that it was difficult for the standard extruder to force down through the hotend and out the nozzle. Imagine taking a length of soft liquorice and trying to push it through a hole that is smaller than the liquorice diameter! As a result, after a few minutes of printing, it was common for the filament to begin looping out the back of the extruder. The Flexion extruder has much tighter tolerances around the filament the entire length it travels, so there is nowhere for the filament to go except down. Also, it has adjustable pressure using the round dial you can see with the knurled detail in the photo above – this means you can apply more force on the soft filament to maintain a strong grip against the stepper motor gear. By rotating the dial, you can quickly scale the pressure back when you change to a rigid filament like PLA, with 4 levels of variation possible and a grub screw to really dial in each setting. The design is completely open, (when it was assembled I initially thought something was missing!), which means you can see the filament and gears, which is great for maintenance and adjustment. And while I haven’t tried yet, according to the Flexion website the nozzle can handle higher temperatures than a standard extruder, up to 290°C, which is great for plastics like nylon and polycarbonate.

The photo at the top right is one of the first 3D prints done to test the abilities of the extruder, taking approximately 4 hours. It looks good from a distance, although there are some small gaps where we started with too much retraction and not enough flow – at this point we are still experimenting with settings to get the best results, currently trying 107% flow, 40mm/s print speed and 1mm retraction. If you are using a Flexion for Ninjaflex and have some reliable settings, I’d love you to post a comment and share them!

– Posted by James Novak

Ninjaflex Extruder Mod – Fail

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This is a short little update following on from my last post attempting to 3D print with Ninjaflex filament (soft TPU):

After limited success using the stock extruder on a Wanhao Duplicator i3, I found a 3D printable Extruder Drive Block on Thingiverse to supposedly help stop the filament from finding its way out out the back rather than being forced down into the nozzle. Well, as you can see from the photos, it looks like it fits quite well, although I did have to slice and file a few areas to fit properly – most notably around the shaft of the stepper motor which was far too tight and stopped it from turning, and the wheel that pushes the filament against the stepper gear which was blocked from putting any force against the filament so did not drive it down into the nozzle. Admittedly, the file on Thingiverse was designed for the Duplicator 4, so it was a bit of a long shot to work with the i3.

So back to the drawing board I’m afraid for Ninjaflex printing – perhaps time to upgrade to a Flexion extruder, or look at some other TPU materials that might be slightly stiffer and more suitable for this basic extruder. Flexible PLA looks interesting. If you’ve had any successes 3D printing with Ninjaflex on a printer like the Duplicator i3, leave me a comment 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Ninjaflex – First Test

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I’m sure if you’ve been 3D printing for even a short time, you’ve heard of Ninjaflex – a brand of flexible filament for your FDM printer that has rubber-like properties, rather than the usual rigid plastic parts that are more common with ABS or PLA filaments. While I’ve known about them for many years, I’ve never risked clogging my printer after hearing some bad experiences with these softer materials. Until this week!

I’m currently working with fashion postdoctoral researcher Mark Liu, who purchased a Wanhao Duplicator i3 v2.1 for some of our research – not coincidentally, it’s identical to my home Cocoon Create 3D printer. We decided to give the Ninjaflex a go to see if it would print, and if so, what sort of quality we could get since the printer and replacement parts are cheap if we really screwed up! Photographed above is one of our first successful prints, although the truth is we had quite a few failed attempts getting to this point as we experimented with settings and carefully watched each print. The primary settings we are using for these first tests (based off the recommended settings for Ninjaflex which are available in the Printing Guidelines) are:

  • Extruder Temperature: 230°C
  • Build Plate Temperature: 40°C
  • Print Speed: 15mm/s
  • Layer height: 0.2mm
  • Retraction: 5mm (I think this is too much and we will try 0mm or 1mm)

These may not be perfect yet, and I’m keen for anyone’s feedback on what’s led to more successful prints with these soft filaments. The main thing we’ve noticed is that the soft filament is challenging for the extruder to push down into the nozzle and force out the tip – it is quite common for the nozzle to clog and filament to keep feeding through until it comes out the back of the extruder. Luckily nothing has jammed up yet, you can pull the filament back up out of the extruder and try again. With a bit of a search online, it seems that some 3D printable parts may solve this problem, in particular this modified Extruder Drive Block available on Thingiverse which closes the opening where the filament likes to escape, and will hopefully better force it down through the nozzle. The video below from Wanhao USA helps highlight the problem, and how this 3D printed part can fix it.

It’s early days with this filament, and I know the stock extruder of the Duplicator i3 is really not optimised for this type of material. But it can be done, and I’m sure with some tweaking can be made more reliable. Stay tuned as I am currently printing the new block to install on the Duplicator in the coming days, and will report back with results.

– Posted by James Novak

Is That A Clogged Nozzle, or…

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No it’s just a clogged 3D printer nozzle, thanks for asking!

2017 seems to be my year for repairs on the Cocoon Create 3D printer, it was only a few months ago I wrote a big post about repairing and replacing the PTFE tube after it got seriously clogged. I did some research and found out exactly what the tube is for, and bought a roll of spare tube for future repairs (click here to read more).

Lucky I did! This seems to be the same sort of problem, however instead of the PTFE tube just getting clogged, when I opened up the nozzle the tube had become melted and broke off inside, completely stuck as you can see in the photo. I wonder if the spare PTFE tube I had installed was made from dodgy materials, allowing it to melt? Or maybe the ABS filament had just found a way around the outside of the tube and caused it to clog. Either way it’s getting a bit frustrating to have the same issue.

Luckily this wasn’t too difficult to fix (although I did jump straight on Ebay and buy a couple of spare brass nozzles – just search for RepRap MK10 0.4mm nozzle since the Cocoon Create is based on the RepRap Prusa i3). Using a drill and holding the nozzle with some pliers, I gradually worked my way up from a 2mm to 4mm diameter, clearing out the clogged material. 4mm is almost exactly the same as the internal nozzle diameter, so it cleared everything out nicely.

With some new PTFE tube installed, I’m back up and running again and the first print is coming out nicely (stay tuned to see what it is). Let’s see how long it lasts this time…

– Posted by James Novak

Tiko Down and Out?

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Unfortunately it looks like this image of the Tiko 3D Printer is as close as I’ll ever get to one – after months of speculation by fellow Kickstarter supporters, and a recent article by 3dprint.com which explained some of the problems that have plagued the company since their massive Kickstarter success in 2015, the Tiko team have sent an email update to backers that sounds ominous:

“Basically, the company is now on standby while we pursue ways to get back on track… We made countless mistakes, and we are now in a tough place, but it doesn’t mean that everything we built is suddenly worthless.”

It sounds like there may still be a glimmer of hope that investors may see the potential in Tiko and jump in to save the day, but given my previous experience with the failure of Solidoodle after the Press 3D printer, I’m not holding my breath. A few batches of Tiko’s did make it to the US and Canada, however online reports seem to suggest that the hardware and software hasn’t really lived up to expectations, being released out of desperation to get some products out there without being fully tested. A real shame, this was a Kickstarter campaign I was really excited about and the journey started off so well.

Maybe I’m just cursed? This is now the second printer/company that I’ve supported that has hit major troubles. Which means that I think I’m throwing in the towel with crowdfunding 3D printers – there are just too many risks and challenges, and there are so many options already available and sitting on shelves that the risk hardly seems worth it to save a few dollars with a startup. Given how well my Cocoon Create 3D printer has been going over the past year, bought for only $399 AUD from Aldi, I really can’t see the point. In the time Tiko has been struggling to produce 1 printer, Cocoon Create has supplied 1 very successful printer (read my review here), and looks poised to release the next generation machine any day.

That’s the other problem with these sorts of crowdfunded technologies – in the time that it takes to develop and manufacture them, the more established companies and new startups have already brought out ever newer machines that are superior to the technology a year or two ago, even superior to technology only a matter of months ago. The pace of change in 3D printing is extremely quick, and if you get caught for too long in development, what you’re developing will likely be out of date before it even leaves the factory.

Obviously I’m a huge fan of crowdfunding, having just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter project using the old Solidoodle Press as a plotter, but I now have a very big question mark about funding anything as complex as a 3D printer. I really do hope the Tiko team can negotiate their little hearts out and find some sort of a way to move forward. I would love nothing more than to one day have a Tiko on my workbench, and be running it side-by-side with my other printers and writing some reviews for you all. I’m just not holding my breath…

– Posted by James Novak

Turning a 3D Printer into a Plotter

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My last couple of posts have been about the Robot Picasso Kickstarter I’m currently running, a project that developed after the failure of the Solidoodle Press 3D printer. It’s attracted some media attention from 3dprint.com and Digital Trends who have followed up the saga of Solidoodle, the company going bankrupt because of the failings of this one printer.

Given the success of the Kickstarter, which is over 300% funded with a few days still to go, I thought it was about time to show the special 3D printed part that has converted the 3D printer into a 2D plotter. I developed the part in Solidworks using just a few key measurements, in particular the 2 front screw holes and the distance needed for the tip of the pen to lightly touch the plate where paper would be stuck. It sure beats using rubber bands and sticky tape which is how the initial experiments began! You can check out the 3D model below.

This is something that you could create for any 3D printer since most extruders have some sort of screw holes that you could take advantage of (for example you can see them in my Cocoon Create printer in this previous post), or perhaps you could design a clever snap-fitting system similar to the tutorial I wrote for Formlabs last year which shows the step-by-step process to designing a snap-fit enclosure. As long as you can create a secure fit, you will be able to get consistent results using your 3D printer as a 2D printer (plotter). If you want to see the process of drawing with this attachment, just check out the Kickstarter video I put together showing the full process of Robot Picasso. It’s a fun way to add a whole new function to your existing 3D printer if you can turn a 2D drawing into simple G-code commands.

– Posted by James Novak

My First Kickstarter Goes Live!

I don’t normally use my blog to promote or sell anything, but I figure for the launch of my first Kickstarter campaign I can make a small exception! Besides, it’s actually developed from some of my previous posts where I hacked my useless Solidoodle Press 3D printer to draw images and had some fun using a Wii Nunchuck controller to manually move the extruder.

Through the month of January Kickstarter are running the Make 100 Challenge, and I was inspired to set something up quickly that would be a bit of fun for both myself and potential backers. The idea of the challenge is to get something off the ground that is limited to 100 editions, so it’s inspiring to see a lot of new projects that might not normally launch on Kickstarter, many of them quite creative and artistic. That’s where I’ve pitched my Kickstarter – something a bit unusual and creative, yet fitting in with my interests of customization, hacking, digital manufacturing, algorithms, coding, parametric design, CAD… All the fun stuff.

On paper the idea is relatively simple – send me a photograph, I use some software to generate a Picasso-like line drawing, and that drawing gets sent to my hacked Solidoodle Press to be drawn on paper. But hopefully the video shows that the process is a little more complex than that, and quite interesting to watch.

I would love you to take a look, share the link, or if you’re really interested help get this project off the ground with funding levels starting at only $8 for the final eBook compilation. Whatever happens it’s been a great experience to put this campaign together.

– Posted by James Novak

22/1/2017 UPDATE: To thank everyone for your support and reaching the 200% funding milestone, here’s a new short video showing what happens when Robot Picasso draws a cliff-top building.

Robot Picasso also has a new Facebook Page you can follow to keep up to date with the latest developments. Let’s keep the momentum of this campaign and try and get 100 unique drawings!

New Year 3D Printer Repairs

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After something like 150 hours of 3D printing leading up to Christmas it’s no wonder that my Cocoon Create decided to extend its holiday with some down time to kick off 2017. There have been 2 problems to do with extrusion that I’ve come across, and thought they might be handy to know how to fix for others with this printer, or indeed any of the many derivatives of the original RepRep Prusa i3 which this printer is based off.

The top image shows the first problem which I noticed after some jamming and issues swapping out filaments – basically a build-up of filament “powder” over time from the gear grinding it when it’s been jammed. This one’s a nice easy fix, just a cleanup and a reminder to open up the extruder occasionally to keep things clean. If you’ve never opened the extruder before it’s nothing scary, just 2 bolts on the left where the fan is mounted to the heat-sink which opens the whole thing up as shown above. You might be surprised how simple the whole mechanism is.

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After fixing this problem and doing a couple of prints, I then noticed the filament was getting jammed again and I couldn’t push filament through the nozzle no matter what I did. Opening the extruder (same process as before except now removing the small screw on the right of the metal block to release the actual nozzle) the problem was pretty clear – a clog in the PTFE tube which you can see above. A lot of people are surprised to open their extruder and find a plastic tube inside, and this is the first time I’ve really had a problem with it. This tube is made from PTFE, basically Teflon like in your non-stick frypan, and seems to serve a couple of functions from what I’ve read online:

  1. it stops heat from the nozzle climbing too high into the extruder and prematurely melting the filament, which would cause serious clogs.
  2. being non-stick, it helps the filament keep sliding smoothly down to the nozzle without sticking as it gets warm.

A very cheap, simple part that has a lot of responsibility. Mine must’ve gotten worn out or slightly dislodged during my last attempt at fixing the extruder. Thankfully my printer came with 1 replacement, which I cut to size (make sure both ends are nice and square so that there are no gaps for filament to get caught in) and now I’m up and printing again with no problems. Also I’ve jumped onto Ebay and ordered a 2m length of PTFE tube (inside diameter 2mm, outside diameter 4mm) from China for $2.50 – I recommend anyone who has a 3D printer with this part order some PTFE tube as backup, it’s very cheap but if you need to buy something locally in a 3D printing emergency, prices look at least 10 times higher. For a couple of dollars it might just help keep you sane.

Some good forums discussing PTFE tube issues:

I’ve previously written about another type of clog where filament breaks off inside the extrusion tube as you’re retracting it, and you can’t force a new piece in – check out the post here if this sounds like what you’re experiencing.

Happy 3D printing, happy new year.

– Posted by James Novak

Repairing 3D Prints with a 3D Pen

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It’s been a while since I last played with my 3Doodler Pen to repair a broken 3D print – the results were pretty cool, although it takes some practice to get reasonable results. Check out the post and images here. Some people make pretty amazing sculptures with the pen, however I find the real value in using the pen to fill gaps created by warped 3D prints and fix other cosmetic problems.

One of my latest projects is assembled from 16 separate pieces printed on my Cocoon Create 3D printer (60 hours worth of printing!), and inevitably with such large pieces printed using desktop FDM technology, there are some gaps caused by print warping. Most of them are reasonably small, but some like the ones shown above and below are quite large. Unfortunately the 3Doodler uses 3mm filament, meaning that I couldn’t use the same 1.75mm filament used to print the parts to begin with, but given that this project doesn’t need to be cosmetically pretty (prototype only), a different shade of yellow that came in the box will do.

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The first step is of course to use the pen to extrude material into the cavity, ensuring to move slowly and use the hot nozzle to bond the new plastic with the original. It can get a bit messy and smelly (do it in a well ventilated area – I had a fan blowing to keep a lot of the fumes moving away, but there were times my eyes were stinging), and as shown in image 2 above, might look a bit rough, but that’s OK. You can go back over some of the rough patches using the side of the hot nozzle to try and smooth them out, not extruding any material but using the nozzle like a hot rolling pin. This technique is also great for blending some of the sharp edges or smaller gaps that don’t really need to be filled. The final step is to use a metal file to clean things up, giving a much smoother finish.

Admittedly this process wasn’t all smooth sailing, my 3Doodler kept getting clogged despite me taking it apart and cleaning it out – I have a feeling it might be the material quality and/or the temperature of the nozzle not being quite as hot as it needs to be, so a lot of time was wasted trying to manually push the filament through the pen and get a steady flow. I did notice that when I pushed the hot nozzle into my original print (the darker yellow plastic) it melted much quicker than the 3Doodler filament, despite them both being ABS. So material quality is likely the cause. But the final result is worth the pain, gaps are cleaned up nicely and the surface is nice and smooth. Time for some testing!

– Posted by James Novak